Nameplate-gate, Waters-gate, call it what you want to call it. The drama between the New England Patriots and guard Brian Waters appears to be ending but not for the better. Now the Patriots must begin preparing for life without Waters.
There was always a strong feeling/hope that he would be back, and the door may not be completely closed on a return just yet, but with the Patriots Week 1 contest against the Titans now less than 48 hours away, those feelings of hope have turned to fears for the future.
The Boston Globe goes into great detail on Waters' situation, but here it is in a three-point nutshell:
- Although money was not at the forefront of the issue, Waters was asked to restructure his contract into a deal that guaranteed him less than his scheduled $1.4 million base salary but with the possibility of him earning more;
- Waters wants to play closer to home, and his strong family ties played a large part in his absence from camp;
- Waters could still report for Week 1, which would force the Patriots' hand as it pertains to his salary, but would also be subject to over a month's worth of $30,000-per-day fines.
So how do the Patriots move forward into life without Waters?
The depth chart on NFL.com currently lists Ryan Wendell as the starting center and Dan Connolly as the right guard. This is an interesting choice because while Wendell has sparse starting experience at center, Connolly manned the spot all season long when healthy after veteran center Dan Koppen went down with an ankle injury.
That's especially true since offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said (via the Globe) that Connolly is "a really gifted athlete" and that he is "a very, very good center in this league." Connolly has played all over inside of the line, starting eight games at left guard and five games at right guard in 2010, followed by 11 starts at center in 2011. Wendell has started five games for the Patriots, four at center and one at guard.
With an offensive line in flux, the lack of starting experience is just one concern. One of the biggest concerns may be the lack of chemistry in the unit. With all the shakeups on the offensive line, not many of the starters have spent significant time playing next to each other (something which Dante Scarnecchia said is important for offensive linemen to do, per the Globe).
Connolly lined up next to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer for five games in 2010, but other than that, there's no duo like left tackle Matt Light and left guard Logan Mankins, who started 85 regular season games next to each other and didn't even have to talk to each other to communicate well.
Wendell has learned a lot from Koppen who was cut from the Patriots as the team trimmed its lineup to 53 men.
"Being behind Koppen and watching him play for the past several years has been a great learning experience on how to be a pro," said Wendell, according to Patriots.com. "Specific examples are just work ethic, study habits, how to practice. Being a pro's about a lot more than about what you do on Sundays."
That's true in the long-term, but this week, the opponent is the Tennessee Titans, whose underrated defensive line could pose problems for a Patriots interior line that has come under fire all preseason.
"They're a really good team, a lot of hard working guys, guys playing hard on the inside there," said Wendell. "We got [defensive tackles SenDerrick] Marks and [Jurrell] Casey, two real tough guys. Their whole defensive front—they all play hard, they all get to the ball. It's going to be a challenge, and we're all going to have to work hard."
The Titans defensive line doesn't have a single starter weighing in at over 300 pounds, so the Patriots may look to grind things out and slow things down against what is a smaller group predicated on quickness.
That means the Patriots offensive line will not only have to be quick on their feet, but also quick with their heads. Chemistry is a key component on the offensive line, and that will be put to the test with all the moves, but especially now with the absence of Waters.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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